Government in meltdown
ANOTHER MONTH, ANOTHER CRISIS. Two more ministerial resignations, more open plotting by Cabinet members to seize the leadership, open warfare among Tory backbenchers over Brexit - and in the midst of it all, a useless, powerless, fatally wounded prime minister, whose survival strategy is to appease the increasingly polarised factions of her unpopular party. Meanwhile the country suffers.
Or at least most of it does. One of the central reasons why the Grenfell Tower fire symbolises everything about this Tory government is because of the coexistence within the same borough of such huge inequalities - where a ward in which seven out of ten homes are overcrowded is just a few streets away from where seven in ten homes are empty or second properties. Sadly these inequalities are not unique to Kensington - and they are worsening.
Seven years of austerity - cuts in health and social care especially - have caused 120,000 deaths, according to a recent report. For the first time in over a century, life expectancy has stopped increasing and the advent of austerity appears the most likely cause. The economy is stalling, with growth at its slowest since 2009, wages falling and homelessness rising. Britain shares with Greece the worst decline in the value of real wages - by over 10% - in the developed world. The difference is that this policy was forced on Greece by its creditors, whereas in the UK it was based on an ideological choice.
One in four NHS nurses is forced to take a second job. More and more public sector workers are being forced to rely on benefits and even food banks to survive. Five thousand head teachers have written to the Chancellor saying schools cannot cope without a meaningful funding increase. The escalating crisis in the health service is matched by that in local children’s services, which charities say is reaching catastrophic proportions.
And there’s more on the way. New research suggests Universal Credit cuts will hit women, ethnic minorities and poor families most. And behind the posturing over Brexit, there are real plans to torch workers’ and environmental rights, with the government denying Parliament any say over its future attempts to dilute standards and entitlements in these areas.
None of these problems will be addressed by the Tories’ November budget. It falls to Labour to set out an alternative, as John McDonnell did with his demand for an emergency budget. The Shadow Chancellor is calling for Universal Credit to be suspended until its fundamental iniquities are fixed. He wants new funding to lift the public sector pay cap and real investment in the country’s infrastructure, public services and a large-scale public house-building programme. It’s clear the latest Paradise Papers revelations about tax avoidance show that everyone, Labour included, underestimated the volume of revenue lost as a result of these tax dodges, which could be vital to sourcing the funds for the investment programme the country desperately needs.
Yet nobody expects these issues to be tackled by this government, which is setting a new nadir not just on tax morality, but all morality. Priti Patel’s foreign policy mission to channel UK aid money to the Israeli military may have caused her downfall - but this was primarily because of its embarrassingly freelance nature.
Elsewhere the government continues to arm Saudi Arabia and have its military personnel in the control rooms where bombing targets in Yemen are selected. In November 26 people were killed when the Saudis bombed yet another crowded market. But these figures pale into insignificance when the broader toll of this lucrative conflict is calculated, with seven million Yemenis on the brink of famine - thanks to a Saudi aid blockade - in a country already gripped by the world’s worst cholera epidemic.
Britain sold over £1 billion of arms to Saudi Arabia in the first six months of 2017 alone. And for the Tories this is the future: arms supplies to dictators abroad, the cultivation of a tax haven at home. Meanwhile our Foreign Secretary is so distracted by his scheming against the PM that his blunders imperil the lives of citizens detained abroad.
The government is in meltdown. The stakes are high. Precisely because the Tories fear a Corbyn-led Labour government so much, they will cling to office for as long as possible. Power is not guaranteed to fall into our hands either next year or the year after, however much we want it in order to make a difference. So we need to continue to mobilise, stay focused and avoid complacency. We need to organise for a victory we cannot take for granted. But the bigger it is, the more authority we will have to transform Britain.